Can we have internet governance without internet rights?

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 27 (APC)

Tuesday September 26 – Many important technical decisions about internet architecture are being made right now — decisions that will have consequences for decades. At present, policy choices are being made largely without the input of civil society and without sufficient consideration of the public good. It is clear that civil society needs some innovative thinking, a new paradigm through which we can ensure the right policy outcomes.

This is why APC’s pre-event at the sixth Internet Governance Forum focused on developing a rights-based approach to access. Any debate surrounding ICT policy must be informed by respect for human rights in order to be effective. In light of this, APC put forward the proposal that the theme for the next IGF should be human rights.

As Joy Liddicoat of APC’s Connect your rights! campaign explains : “Human rights are as essential to internet governance as the TCP/IP protocol is to the domain name system.”

A rights-based approach is the best method toward ensuring just outcomes from ICT policy.

A rights-based approach to gaining access

It is the best way to ensure universal, affordable access. Monopolistic conditions, and a lack of economic incentives means that markets in developing countries have largely failed to provide affordable access to a majority of users. The promise of the internet as a tool for development and empowerment continues to be unrealised by large segments of the population. Disparities in access between rich and poor, urban and rural areas serve to exacerbate existing social inequalities.

Telecommunications companies simply do not have the incentive to provide access to marginalised groups. Access will only be assured when states are obligated to provide it, as with a right.

A rights-based approach to maintaining access

Worldwide, governments are moving towards restricting access and this securitisation of the internet is a major threat to civil and political freedoms. This translates not just into outright censorship, but often creates the conditions — such as surveillance and lack of anonymity — for self-censorship.

Recently the Pakistani government passed regulation banning all encryption. Likewise, the Indian government now requires all cybercafé visitors (disproportionately poorer citizens) to register with ID. This kind of extreme legislation has profound implications for the security and anonymity of users.

Equally alarming is the emergence of draconian measures for IP protection. “Three strikes” laws — where users can be disconnected or even imprisoned for copyright violations — are a clear distortion of the law.

A rights-based approach would rule out these kinds of reactionary legislation.

In light of the increasingly complex issues facing internet policy-makers, including many at the IGF, there is a real need for a clear set of guiding principles for internet regulation.

Such a set of principles already exist. They are on paper – in existing international human rights declarations. It’s now up to the international internet community to learn more about them and start to apply them in their own policies and regulation.

Human rights must be the underlying theme for the 2012 IGF.

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More about bout the IGF

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world. www.apc.org

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